Research really at a glance – EMBL Communications

EMBL Communications

Informing, inspiring, and engaging society with EMBL’s research, services and training

Research really at a glance

Since its first edition in 2005, the 132 pages of Research at a Glance have given a detailed description of the scientific focus of all EMBL research groups and teams. This publication is important to many stakeholders and audiences, and is used for a wide variety of purposes. After more than 10 years, and as the importance of online content keeps growing, it was time to update it and reflect better the “at a glance” in its title.

Why an update?

In 2016, Research at a Glance was distributed to a few hundred people, mostly candidates or potential candidates to scientific positions at EMBL, who needed both an overview and a large amount of detail on EMBL’s research.

However, its heavy format made it unpractical for people to pick up and keep: when we asked them, EMBL’s recruiters said that only a few copies would tend to be distributed at career fairs – interested candidates would mostly pick up the EMBL bookmarks with URLs as reminder of where to find relevant information online. We learned that the key feature that people used was the research matrix matching scientific topics with groups. When we conducted research with PhD applicants, they too reported that the information within the print publication was useful, but that they almost exclusively accessed it online during their application.

Research at a Glance is also distributed to non-scientists interested in EMBL’s research:  visitors, industry partners, journalists, etc… In working with stakeholders, we heard that people would typically glance over it, read the short summaries and look at the matrix, but most of the document was too detailed and technical for their interests and needs. Several EMBL departments expressed the need for a smaller and less technical document that would present the diversity of EMBL’s research really “at a glance”.

Based on the feedback we gathered from the EMBL departments who use the publication most, we decided to redesign Research at a Glance according to 2 principles:

  • Make the paper publication useful for a broad audience interested in an overview of EMBL’s research
  • Make it easy to see in the document where more detailed information can be found online

Thinner, more direct, and better connected

We designed the new format using as a reference the Faculty Guide of Cold Spring Harbour that several group leaders indicated as a good example of an overview document.

The new document is thinner, at only 30 pages. The description of each group is just a few lines long, in a language that is more easily accessible to a wide range of interested readers and is easier to quickly scan. For readers who do not have a background in the life sciences, this new format provides an easy entry point to EMBL’s research, giving both an overview of the diversity of our research and an understanding of what each group focuses on.

The information on each group is complemented by a short URL leading directly to the group’s page on the EMBL website. There, the full content of the old Research at a Glance will remain unchanged, and the short URLs will make it easier to access for more expert readers. In addition, keeping the bulk of the information online only will make it more flexible and easier to update in real-time, while the shorter printed summary should require less frequent updates.

Reinforcing the complementarity between the printed documents that we distribute widely around, and the online detailed information on the EMBL website ensures that all interested audiences get the right information about EMBL, at a level that they can understand and be interested in.

The matrix is the only element that will not change: it is useful for many users to navigate the diversity of the research we do, and find quickly some core information about groups or research topics.

Looking forward

To avoid confusion with the old publication and reflect its new concept, this new document will be called Research in Brief. We will monitor its usage and uptake in 2018, and will adapt it depending on the feedback we will receive. We are also planning to do more audience research to inform all our future activities in strategy and communications, particularly the planned digital redesign. This will allow us to build up a portfolio of complementary digital and print resources tailored to the needs of different target audiences.